Robinson and Donigian T’08 Honored with 2024 Teaching Excellence Awards

The professors were recognized for their teaching of Financial Accounting (Robinson) and Negotiations (Donigian).

The Tuck Class of 2024 has announced this year’s recipients of the annual Teaching Excellence Awards.

For teaching in the core curriculum, students chose Professor of Business Administration Leslie Robinson, who teaches Financial Accounting. In the elective curriculum, students selected Clinical Professor of Business Administration Aram Donigian T’08, who teaches Negotiations. 

The Teaching Excellence Awards were set up by the Class of 2011 to “celebrate the learning environment at Tuck by honoring the faculty who, in the eyes of their students, have made an outstanding contribution to the quality of the educational experience.” Each year, an academic representative from the graduating class surveys his or her classmates about their favorite teachers and meets with a committee to examine the comments and data and select the winners.

Leslie Robinson has taught Financial Accounting since she arrived at Tuck, in 2006. As one of the foundational courses in the curriculum, students are required to take it in the summer term of their first year. While the material is not intimidating to Robinson, she still appreciates how daunting the course can seem to students who are just embarking on their MBA journey, and she works to make it more approachable. “The first day, I spend a lot of time just trying to make students feel comfortable, and to make sure they know I view them as people with lives and emotions, and that I’m the same way,” she says. 

Even after 18 years, Robinson still loves teaching Financial Accounting because it’s a chance to change students’ perceptions of the subject. Some students come in thinking they will hate the course, others think they won’t be good at it, and still others think they know it already. Robinson has a distinct strategy for all three groups, making it interesting and intuitive for the first, offering a lot of support for the second, and giving more structure and nuance for the third. “It’s not a course that people are usually super excited about,” she says, “so it’s a challenge to change their mind.”

Aram Donigian, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, taught negotiations at West Point and the Air Force Academy, and is a co-founder with former Tuck professor Jeff Weiss of the West Point Negotiation Project. He came back to his alma mater to teach the subject in 2020, with fond memories of the many mentors and teachers at Tuck who impacted his career path. He teaches Negotiations with a healthy respect for what it is: a skill that requires experience and practice. That’s why he has students engage in negotiations in each class session, prompting them to learn from him and each other. 

Another central tenet of Donigian’s teaching philosophy is that negotiating is much more than the stereotypical haggling that happens at the car dealer. Lesson one is about the mindset people bring to a negotiation, and later lessons dispel the zero-sum perception of the process and get students thinking about building relationships and finding creative options that benefit all parties.

 “I think students enjoy the course because they realize that negotiations are not just about corporate board room deals or getting a better compensation package, but that they’re negotiating all the time in their personal lives and those agreements impact important relationships and their overall enjoyment of life,” Donigian says. “No one loves conflict, and we all respond a little differently to it, so the opportunity to practice these conversations helps increase our confidence for when it ultimately matters.”

Incidentally, both winners of the Teaching Excellence Awards this year are very active in the Bridge program. Robinson is stepping down as faculty director and Donigian is taking her place and continuing to teach Negotiations and Organizational Behavior. “I chose Aram as the person I wanted to take over Bridge,” Robinson says, “and he was happy to do it, which is great because the Bridge students love him.” 

Robinson and Donigian will deliver the “Last Lecture” on Friends and Family Day on Friday, June 7.